5 Everyday Things That Go Totally Nuts in Zero Gravity

#2. Static Electricity Pretends to Be Gravity


Static electricity is already pretty weird. What child wasn't mesmerized to find he could make the dog's hair stand up when he rubbed it with a balloon, or that he could have electric shock fights with his brother in that motel with a really shitty rug? Well, once again, take an already weird phenomenon into space and it only gets weirder:

Via SpaceWatch99

Those are water droplets orbiting a knitting needle. Statically charged objects work their magic by exerting attraction to their opposites, and in space, the lack of gravity actually makes this static attraction closely resemble the physics of gravity. So take a moist piece of paper and rub it over a knitting needle to generate a static charge, then squirt small droplets of (also statically charged) water at the needle, and that's what you get. The charges of the needle and droplets find they have no gravity to mess their relationship up, so they start to replicate gravitation physics themselves.

The guy performing this experiment, by the way, is none other than Don Pettit, who has become famous for making accidental discoveries by fooling around in space. And when we say "fooling around," we of course mean "he solved one of the biggest mysteries in the history of astronomy." During one particularly uneventful space day, he poured some salt into a plastic bag and shook it around in front of a live video feed for no real reason but shits and giggles. Several seconds later, the salt globules started holding hands and singing "Kumbaya":

Donald R. Pettit (NASA/Johnson Space Center) via Skyandtelescope.com

A 12-pack later, they were all naked.

Back on Earth, another scientist happened to be watching the live stream and realized that Pettit had just accidentally solved a critical stage of planetary accretion, as in the force that makes planet stuff stick into enough other stuff to become planet-sized. Scientists around the world soon realized that in a zero-gravity environment, tiny particles bumped into each other and created static charges, causing these infinitesimally small particles to cling to each other, replicating gravitational physics and solving the mystery behind how planets are formed.

Although we can't help but think that at least part of the attention is because the process just looks cool as all fuck.

Donald R. Pettit (NASA/Johnson Space Center) via Skyandtelescope.com

No way he's not high as hell, doing all this random stuff up there.

#1. Every Living Thing Becomes a Weird Mutant

Shunsuke Yamamoto Photography/Photodisc/Getty

Here's something else you never really think about: Pretty much every living thing you've ever seen looks like it does because it evolved in Earth's gravity. Take the gravity away, and pretty much all of them go apeshit. Fish swim in tiny circles for no apparent reason, cats and pigeons stumble around helplessly, and even microscopic organisms like cells lose their shit. But then there is moss, which does this:

Fred Sack via Livescience.com
It's a galaxy made out of fur!

Moss, like almost all plants, is gravitropic, meaning that it grows in the opposite direction of gravity's pull. On Earth, this means moss usually grows in a disorganized tidal wave of moist shit, aiming toward light and away from Earth's gravitational pull. But when it's grown in zero gravity, it pulls out all the stops and starts growing in a weird, clockwise spiral.

If it could speak, it would be all like, "Fluff? Fluff, fluff, fluff ..."

It's not a "Meh, all plants can do that" thing, either; moss is the only plant ever grown in zero gravity that exhibits consistent signs of pattern growth. All other vegetation loses all orientation and starts growing in random directions. Scientists discovered the phenomenon back in 2002 and still have no real clue why moss sees fit to grow as a spiral instead of an unruly clump of crap.

But moss isn't the only living thing that seems to really come out of its shell in zero-G. Food poisoning bacteria, mainly salmonella, love zero gravity. When scientists gave salmonella a ride on a space shuttle to study how zero gravity resonated on it, the result was a terrifying re-enactment of John Carpenter's The Thing. The salmonella that went into space was ordinary -- what came back to Earth was three times more deadly.

It's what we here at Cracked refer to as the "Ew, gross, poop" experiment.

Not only do pathogens like salmonella become deadlier, but bacteria and microbes grow a whole lot quicker. The picture above highlights the difference between a control group of bacteria (left) versus a space-grown bacterial colony (right) with 75 percent more diarrhea. Because diarrhea is the exact thing you want to flourish on a goddamn space station.

BioServe via NASA
"I'm going to need a raise. And a flame thrower."

Another species that fares extremely well in space is, unsurprisingly, the common cockroach. Space-bred cockroaches aboard a Russian spacecraft have been known to develop quicker, be more resilient, and have far more stamina and speed than Earth roaches, although this may have more to do with the Russian space program than with zero gravity.

All right, so what about people? Do we gain any superpowers when freed from the oppressive crush of Earth's invisible fist?

Nope! We just start to look weird. Many of the human body's mechanisms rely on the presence of gravity, and without it, all sorts of fluids start roaming about inside our body, gathering in hollow and strange places, such as the goddamn face. The result is something called the "Charlie Brown phase," where an astronaut's head inflates with fluids and causes him to look like a bloated bobble head. Here's a before and after:

NASA via Howstuffworks.com
We're positive that mission control sounds like the teacher.

Fernando would love it if you would find it in your heart to donate to The Debate League, his friend's non-profit organization.

Related Reading: Before you get TOO excited about our astronomic future, click this link and learn why space travel might suck. Don't let Cracked get you down on the whole concept of extraplanetary exploration. You can get up to some pretty badass stuff in space, including making friends with a Robonaut. And if you thought the Mars Rover was as awesome as modern space missions got, you'd best think again. Because the fictional HAL 9000 has a REAL robo-centaur buddy.

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